Features Top — 23 October 2014 » Written by
Netflix and Corporate Curation of Cultural Content

In the month of horror, let’s shift our gaze to some real world horror in the film industry. The other day I was on Facebook and I saw a friend’s status that said his new favorite television show was Gilmore Girls. He has never struck me as the Gilmore Girls type but, as the show was recently added to Netflix instant, it seemed possible. But it got me thinking: we live in a time where you’re not paranoid to worry about being tracked, where Facebook controls what you see in your newsfeed, and that the service industry (down to doctors now too!) is completely subject to petulant internet reviewers and bribery. With all this in mind, I wonder why no one is asking how things like Netflix Instant are affecting long-term cinematic trends.

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Obviously before VHS the re-watch value of movies was close to non-existent. Whole movies were forgotten (and even continue to be) because having personal copies was rare. And now, despite the relative accessibility of DVDs, even out-of-print ones, the convenience of Netflix Instant is trumping all. But Netflix Instant doesn’t care about quality. Not necessarily. According to Jenny McCabe, Netflix’s Director of Global Medial Relations, “We look for those titles that deliver the biggest viewership relative to the licensing cost. This also means that we’ll forgo or choose not to renew some titles that aren’t watched enough relative to their cost. We always use our in depth knowledge (aka analytics and data) about what our members love to watch to decide what’s available on Netflix….If you keep watching, we’ll keep adding more of what you love.” So, essentially, Netflix’s priority is mass-viewership, which is to say things like Duck Dynasty. And when Netflix has a monopoly on the way the average person, particularly young people, view television and films there’s something to be said about what’s available and how that determines say, whether Gilmore Girls will be more popular in twenty years than say, One Tree Hill.

While this may not seem like a big deal, imagine if we lived in a fascist society and all the content was propaganda, an extreme example to be sure. But even in the more mundane sense it’s sort of terrifying. I don’t want Netflix determining my attachments to art! And as Facebook is now being accused of taking bribes the way Yelp does to determine the content its users absorb, at what point does Netflix start doing the same? If you spend any time looking through Netflix’s algorithms you’ll see a lot of coded language about “likely to cancel,” meaning, their subscription. With the advent of instant streaming, Netflix’s goal has been reduced to bigger, faster, more money. It seems like a hop, skip, and a jump away from taking a large sum of money from Michael Bay to eternally promote his movies at the expense of whatever silly art cinema. Just kidding, but you get the idea. I know it’s difficult to feel the need to invest in physical copies of things in this day and age, but if you can, (NOT FROM AMAZON BECAUSE THEY’RE EVIL TOO), it might do your favorite artists some good.

For additional information on Netflix’s algorithms see: https://blog.kissmetrics.com/how-netflix-uses-analytics/

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Madeline Meyer

Madeline recently graduated from Oberlin College where she studied Cinema Studies. She writes screenplays and ill-received dad jokes. She likes board games and olives.

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